When you look at the mounting costs of college these days, you may wish your parents had started saving when you were an infant, or let you get a job in kindergarten (lemonade stand, anyone?) Even if you don't have a head start on saving for college, don't worry. Funding a college education can be a real challenge, but don't let that stop you. Federal grants, loans, educational benefits and scholarships are available to you as a military student. Take advantage of them, whether your parents are helping to cover expenses or you're taking on the challenge yourself. A little bit of aid can go a long way to helping achieve your higher education dreams.
Federal grants and loans
The federal government has numerous loan and grant programs for students. Start by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Most colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for all types of financial aid, including federal, state and school-sponsored grants and loans. Get the application on the FAFSA website to apply for these financial aid programs:
Federal Pell Grant - This grant is for undergraduate students without a degree (unless you're getting a teacher certification), and because it's a grant, you don't have to repay it. Get the full rundown on Pell Grants, then cross those fingers.
Direct Stafford Loans - These versatile, low-interest loans can help fund your higher education dreams. Check them out.
PLUS Loans - The parents of dependent students can apply for the Direct PLUS Loan, but if you're a graduate or professional student, you can apply on your own. Now that's independence. Read up on it.
Federal Perkins Loans - Would-be students with exceptional financial need can get a solid, low-interest loan through this program. Check it out to see if you qualify.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program - The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants for low-income undergraduate students. But Pell Grant recipients get priority for FSEOG, so be sure to apply for the Pell first.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant - This grant is for students whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 and who don't qualify for a Pell Grant. If you meet these criteria, more information is a click away..
Trying to complete college can be challenging for military families because of frequent relocations, but lots of schools understand this and want to help. More than 1,800 schools worldwide are part of a group called Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges - read about it on their website.
Many scholarship opportunities are available for children of service members:
Defense Commissary Agency - There's a scholarship at every commissary just waiting for students to apply, so get out there and do it.
Army Emergency Relief - If you're a soldier's spouse or dependent, the Army Emergency Relief has scholarships and grants for you.
Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation - If either or both of your parents are an active, deceased or honorably discharged Marine, the foundation might have you covered.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society - Sailors, Marines and their family members can apply for scholarships and no-interest loans from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. More info is on their website.
Navy SEAL Foundation - If you or anyone in your family is a member of the Naval Special Warfare community, you could be eligible for a grant.
Air Force Aid Society - Air Force families can get information on tuition assistance and grant programs on their website.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance - Coast Guard families get a similar deal: check out the loans and grants Coast Guard Mutual Assistance offers you.
Reserve Officer Training Corps Scholarships - Scholarships are awarded based on merit and grades, not financial need. Contact any of the following for help figuring out if you're eligible: Army ROTC, 800-USA-ROTC; Marine Corps ROTC, 800-MARINES; Navy ROTC, 800-USA-NAVY; Air Force ROTC, 800-423-7682.
American Legion Legacy Scholarship - This scholarship helps anyone whose parent was a service member who died while on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. If that's you, read about the scholarship.
ThanksUSA Scholarship Program - ThanksUSA has awarded more than 3,400 scholarships totaling more than $10 million since 2006. If your spouse or parents are in the military, this is definitely a scholarship worth applying for.